This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Liu Song dynasty" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (April 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
Liu Song and neighbors
Liu Song and neighbors
Administrative divisions of Liu Song
Administrative divisions of Liu Song
• 420–422
Emperor Wu
• 424–453
Emperor Wen
• 453–464
Emperor Xiaowu
• 465–472
Emperor Ming
• 473–477
Emperor Houfei
• 477–479
Emperor Shun
• Established
7 July[1] 420
• Disestablished
31 May[2] 479
CurrencyChinese coin,
Chinese cash
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Eastern Jin
Southern Qi
Today part ofChina

Song, known as Liu Song (Chinese: 劉宋), Former Song (前宋) or Song of (the) Southern dynasties (南朝宋) in historiography, was an imperial dynasty of China and the first of the four Southern dynasties during the Northern and Southern dynasties period. It succeeded the Eastern Jin dynasty and preceded the Southern Qi dynasty.[3]

The dynasty was founded by Liu Yu (Emperor Wu; 363–422 CE), whose surname together with "Song" forms the common name for the dynasty, the "Liu Song". This appellation is used to distinguish it from a later dynasty of the same name, the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE, ruled by the House of Zhao). Although the Liu Song has also at times been referred to as the "Southern Song", the name is now mainly used to refer to the Song dynasty after 1127 CE.[4]

The Liu Song was a time when there was much internal turmoil. A number of emperors were incompetent and/or tyrannical, which at least partially led to many military revolts. These rulers include Liu Shao, Emperor Xiaowu, Liu Ziye, Emperor Ming, and Liu Yu. Emperor Ming was especially vicious, murdering many of his brothers, nephews, and other male relatives — many of them children. Such internal instability eventually led to the dynasty's destruction. However, its founder Emperor Wu was considered one of the greatest generals during the Northern and Southern dynasties period, and the reign of its third emperor, Emperor Wen, is known for its political stability and capable administration, not only of its emperor but its strong and honest officials. This is known as the Reign of Yuanjia (425–453) and one of the relative golden ages for the Southern Dynasties.[5]


Liu Yu, Emperor Wu of Liu Song

Rise of Liu Yu

Although he was a descendant of Emperor Gaozu of Han's younger brother Liu Jiao,[6] he was still born into poverty. He joined the army at a young age, quickly distinguished himself in the army and was quickly promoted to the command of an army, the Beifu corps. Liu Yu was instrumental in fighting the rebel Huan Xuan. After Huan Xuan's fall, Liu Yu gained control of the Jin dynasty.

Campaigns of Liu Yu

Main article: Emperor Wu of Song

Regarded as one of the best generals of the Northern and Southern dynasties, Liu Yu started off by reclaiming much of the territory the Chinese had lost during the Sixteen Kingdoms era. He started off his career by campaigning against Southern Yan, which bordered Jin to the north and had adopted a policy of aggression and kidnapping citizens from the Jin. By spring of 410, he had captured the southern Yan capital at Guanggu, ending Southern Yan.[7]

Afterwards, he campaigned against western Shu in modern Sichuan. Using a brilliant military manoeuver mentioned in the Art of War, Liu Yu instructed his generals to attack the capital of Shu by the Min River rather than the short route by the Fu river. Surprising the Shu forces, he quickly captured Chengdu and re-annexed that area back into Jin.[7]

Following the death of the Later Qin Emperor Yao Xin, Liu Yu attacked the state of Later Qin, which controlled the valuable lands of Guanzhong, lands which had once housed the capital of the Qin, Han and Jin dynasties before the barbarian uprisings. After defeating the Later Qin army in several battles, as well as an army of Northern Wei troops which had crossed to assist the Later Qin, Liu Yu recaptured the vital cities of Chang'an and Luoyang, the former capitals of the Jin Empire. It is recorded that he engaged the Wei army by the use of spears launched by crossbows, panicking the Wei cavalry and allowing him to score a decisive victory.[7]

After this success, it seemed that Jin would exterminate the remaining barbarian states in the north and reunify China. However, fortunes began to change for the Jin forces. Liu Mengzhi died and in order to secure his power, Liu Yu left for Jiankang (present-day Nanjing), abandoning the management of the North to his general Wang Zhen'e. After his departure, the state of Xia attacked Guanzhong and reoccupied it, and the loss of these lands prescribed Jin's frontier at the Yellow River. However, Jin retained its former eastern capital, Luoyang, as well as most of the Chinese heartland.[7]

Following his return to Jiankang, Liu Yu ended the rule of the Jin and became emperor himself in 420, establishing the Liu Song dynasty. The name of the dynasty was taken from Liu's fief, which occupied roughly the same territory as the Spring & Autumn era State of Song. The Book of Song does not mention whether the Liu family had any blood relationship to the ancient state's ruling House of Zi, or by extension to the Shang dynasty. It is in any case noteworthy that Liu did not frame his new regime as a restoration of the Han dynasty, despite being demonstrably related to the Han imperial family. Liu died in 422 CE, and was succeeded by the incompetent Shaodi, who was quickly removed. His eventual successor would be his third son, Wendi.[7]

Reign of Emperor Wen

Main article: Emperor Wen of Song

Under Emperor Wen, the Liu Song economy prospered during the rule of Yuanjia (Chinese: 元嘉之治), a period noted for its prosperity in the 400 years of conflict between the Han and Tang dynasties. However, the emperor's martial abilities were not equal to his father, and his inability to crush the remaining barbarian states allowed Northern Wei to complete the unification of the North, to the detriment of Liu Song. Afterwards, Northern Wei would remain a grave and permanent threat to the Liu Song.[7]

War with Northern Wei

Emperor Wen continued the campaigns of his father; nevertheless, he was unsuccessful. In 422 CE, the first year of his reign, he lost three commanderies to Wei. Under the able general Dao Yanzhi, however, Liu Song recovered the four cities of Luoyang, Hulao, Huatai and Qiao'ao south of the Yellow River. However, the emperor's unwillingness to advance past this line caused the destruction of the empire's ally, Xia, by the Wei. The emperor was to repeat this mistake as several barbarian states who had offered to ally with Liu Song against Wei were declined, eventually leading to Wei's unification of the North in 439 CE, to the detriment of the Chinese.[7]

Towards the later part of his reign, Emperor Wen was less than able. He wrongfully executed the general Tan Daoji, who had hitherto commanded the Song armies, and took charge himself. The empire's decline was shown in 450 CE, where the emperor attempted to destroy the Northern Wei himself, and launched a massive invasion. Although initially successful, the campaign turned into a disaster. The Wei lured the Liu Song to cross the Yellow River, and then flanked them, destroying the Eastern army. As the Liu Song armies retreated, the provinces south of the Yellow River were devastated by the Wei army. Only Huatai, a fortified city, held out against the Wei. However, the economic damage was immense. The barbarian troops laid waste to the provinces they had temporarily occupied, as described by Sima Guang:

The Wei forces laid South Yan, Xu, North Yan, Yu, Qing, and Ji Provinces to waste. The Song deaths and injuries were innumerable. When Wei forces encountered Song young men, the forces quickly beheaded them or cut them in half. The infants were pierced through with spears, and the spears were then shaken so that the infants would scream as they were spun, for entertainment. The commanderies and counties that Wei forces went through were burned and slaughtered, and not even grass was left. When sparrows returned in the spring, they could not find houses to build nest on, so they had to do so in forests. Wei soldiers and horses also suffered casualties of more than half, and the Xianbei people were all complaining.

Sima Guang also pointed out the cause of Liu Song's disaster:

Every time Emperor Wen sent generals out on battles, he required them to follow the complete battle plans that he had drafted, and even the dates for battles needed approval from the emperor. Therefore, the generals all hesitated and could not make independent decisions. Further, the non-regular troops that he conscripted were not trained, and they rushed to advance when they were victorious and scattered when they were defeated. These were the two reasons why he failed, and from this point on, the state was in recession, and the Reign of Yuanjia was in decline.

Another historian, Shen Yue, pointed out Emperor Wen was said to model his command on the great general Emperor Guangwu of Han, but he lacked the latter's command abilities.[8]

Emperor Wen made another attempt to destroy Northern Wei in 452, but failed again. On returning to the capital, he was assassinated by the heir apparent, Liu Shao.[7]

Reign of Emperor Xiaowu and Qianfei

Liu Shao's assassination of his father in 453 CE raised indignation across the empire, as it disobeyed one of Confucianism's fundamental principles, that of filial piety. Quickly, his brother Liu Jun rose against him, defeated him, and beheaded him. Once Liu Shao was killed. Liu Jun ascended to the throne and became Emperor Xiaowu. However, he was regarded as immoral and committed incest with his cousins and sisters, and reputed to have even done so with his mother. Nevertheless, his reign was a relatively peaceful one.

Following his death in 464 CE, Liu Jun passed his throne to his son, Liu Ziye, who was generally regarded as a tyrant. He disrespected his father and was suspicious of his uncles, putting several of them to death. He continued the incestuous streak of his father, adopting several of his aunts and cousins as concubines. He was reputed to have ordered all of the princesses to come to his palace and have sexual intercourse with him. When one of his aunts refused, he executed her three sons. He also put to death a lady-in-waiting who bore a resemblance to a woman who cursed him in a dream. Eventually, one of his uncles could not bear it, rose up, and assassinated him.[7]

Liu Zixun's rebellion

Liu Song coexisted with the Xianbei state of Northern Wei with the border at the Yellow river. That border was moved south to the Huai after the reign of Emperor Ming of Liu Song.

The man who assassinated Qianfei quickly became emperor himself and declared himself emperor Ming. He ordered Liu Ziye's brother Liu Zishang and sister Liu Chuyu, who were reputed to have participated in the late emperor's sexual immorality and tyrannical governance, to commit suicide. However, his claim to the throne was not accepted by Liu Zixun, one of his nephews, who then rose against him.

The civil war at first was a great success for Liu Zixun, who quickly overran nearly the entire empire. However, he moved too slowly. Emperor Ming quickly sent an army westward, captured Kuaiji, a vital food supply. Another of his generals captured Qianxi and cut off Liu Zixun's supplies. Starving, his troops collapsed and Liu Zixun was killed, aged just 10.

However, Emperor Ming grew arrogant and refused to grant a pardon to those who had supported Liu Ziye. This action was extremely detrimental to Liu Song and its successors, as the governors of the northern commandries, fearing their lives, surrendered to Wei rather than face execution at Jiankang. This resulted in the loss of the Chinese heartland and the most fertile and cultivated lands at that time. This loss would eventually lead to the destruction of the southern regime, and resulted in North China languishing under a barbarian yoke for another 150 years. Although Emperor Ming attempted to recover them, his attempts were defeated.

Emperor Ming's later reign was extremely brutal. Suspicious of his nephews, he had them all executed. Afraid of usurpation from rival members of the royal family, he executed thousands of members of the royal family, which was greatly weakened. Upon his death, his son had to be assisted by the general Xiao Daocheng, as nearly all of Emperor Ming's brothers and nephews had been killed.[7]

Fall of Liu Song

The successor to the emperor Ming, emperor Houfei, was resentful of the control Xiao Daocheng had over him and announced openly several times he would kill him. Fearful of his demise, Xiao had him assassinated and placed Emperor Shun on his throne. In 479, Xiao took the throne himself and declared himself Emperor of Qi, ending Liu Song. The ex-emperor Shun and his clan were soon put to the sword.[9]

Liu Hui (刘辉) was a descendant of Liu Song royalty who fled north to the Xianbei Northern Wei in exile and married the Xianbei Princess Lanling (蘭陵公主),[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] daughter of the Xianbei Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei. More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Han Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei.[17]

Literature and culture

The eastern qilin of the Chuning Tomb

Despite, and certainly to some extent because of, the chaotic warfare between the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Liu Song produced much poetry (shi 詩) notably the rhapsody, fu 賦. The imperial house sponsored many literary works, and many wrote themselves. The court of Emperor Wen was especially active in literary circles, with Liu supporting the compilation of a large collection of short prose anecdotes, A New Account of the Tales of the World (Shishuo Xinyu). The "Three Giants of Yuanjia," Bao Zhao (鮑照) (d.466), Xie Lingyun (謝霊運) (385–433 CE), and Yan Yanzhi (顏延之) (384–456 CE) are among the best known poets of the Song, each of them being credited as the originators of the three major literary trends to follow.[citation needed]

Scientists and astronomers were also active during periods of relative peace. Buddhism also began to be better understood and more widely practised at this time, and some officials such as Xie Lingyun, were Buddhists.

Liu Song sculptors may have created a number of spirit way ensembles, generally characteristic of the Six Dynasties era, for the tombs of the dynasty's emperors and other dignitaries. However, according to a survey of the extant Six Dynasties' sculpture in the Nanjing and Danyang areas, only one of the extant Six Dynasties' tomb sculptural groups has been securely identified as belonging to the Liu Song: the Chuning Tomb of the first emperor of the dynasty. Two qilin statues of this tomb survive in the appropriately named Qilin Town in Nanjing's suburban Jiangning District.[18]

In 440 CE, the dynasty changed its official religion to Taoism, replacing Buddhism.[19]


Zu Chongzhi, a noted astronomer, lived during the Liu Song period. He was noted for calculating pi to seven decimal places and as the author of a variety of other astronomical theories.

Table of successions

Sovereigns of Liu Song dynasty (420–479 CE)
Posthumous name Temple name Family name and given names Period of reigns Era names and their according range of years
Wu, 武 Gaozu (高祖) Liu Yu, 劉裕 420–422 CE Yongchu (永初) 420–422
Liu Yifu, 劉義符 423–424 CE Jingping (景平) 423–424
Wen, 文 Taizu (太祖) or Zhongzong (中宗) Liu Yilong, 劉義隆 424–453 Yuanjia (元嘉) 424–453
Liu Shao, 劉劭 453 Taichu (太初) 453
Xiaowu, 孝武 Shizu 世祖 Liu Jun, 劉駿 453–464 Xiaojian (孝建) 454–456 CE
Daming (大明) 457–464
Liu Ziye, 劉子業 464–465 Yongguang (永光) 465 CE
Jinghe (景和) 465
Ming, 明 Taizong (太宗) Liu Yu, 劉彧 465[note 1]–472 Taishi (泰始) 465–471 CE
Taiyu (泰豫) 472
Liu Yu, 劉昱 473–477 CE Yuanhui (元徽) 473–477 CE
Shun, 順 Liu Zhun, 劉準 477–479 CE Shengming (昇明) 477–479 CE

Liu Song family tree

Liu Song
Liu Yu 刘裕 (363–422)

(r. 420–422)1
Liu Yifu 刘义符 (406–424)
(r. 423–424)2
Liu Yilong 刘义隆 (407–453)

(r. 424–453)3
Liu Yikang
劉義康 (409–451)
Liu Shao
426–453; r. 4534
Liu Jun (430–464)
(r. 453–464)5
Liu Jun
劉濬 (429–453)
Prince Shixing
Liu Yu 刘彧 (439–472)
(r. 465–472)7
Liu Xiufan 刘休范
Liu Ziye 刘子业 (449–466)

(r. 464–466)6
Liu Zixun
(456–466; r. 466)
Liu Yu (劉昱) (463–477)
(r. 472–477)8
Liu Zhun (劉準) (469–479)
(r. 477–479)9

See also


  1. ^ Emperor Xiaowu's son Liu Zixun (Emperor Qianfei's brother) was declared emperor in spring 466 and received pledges of allegiance from the vast majority of provinces, but was defeated by Emperor Ming's forces and executed by Emperor Ming's general Shen Youzhi in fall 466 CE.



  1. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 119.
  2. ^ Book of Southern Qi, vol. 1.
  3. ^ (梁)裴子野,《宋略‧總論》
  4. ^ 徐俊. 中国古代王朝和政权名号探源. 湖北武昌: 华中师范大学出版社. 2000年11月: 142–144. ISBN 7-5622-2277-0.
  5. ^ (梁)裴子野,《宋略‧總論》:「永初末歲,天子負扆矜懷,以燕、代戎幄,岐、梁重梗,將誓六師,屠桑乾而境北狄,三事大夫顧相謂曰:『待夫振旅凱入,乘轅南返,請具銀繩瓊檢,告報東嶽。』既而洮弗不興,即年厭世」
  6. ^ Book of Song, vol. 1
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Book of Song
  8. ^ Zizhi Tongjian
  9. ^ 川本『中国の歴史、中華の崩壊と拡大、魏晋南北朝』、P144
  10. ^ Lee (2014).
  11. ^ Papers on Far Eastern History. Australian National University, Department of Far Eastern History. 1983. p. 86.
  12. ^ Hinsch, Bret (2018). Women in Early Medieval China. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. ISBN 978-1538117972.
  13. ^ Hinsch, Bret (2016). Women in Imperial China. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 72. ISBN 978-1442271661.
  14. ^ Lee, Jen-der (2014). "9. Crime and Punishment The Case of Liu Hui in the Wei Shu". In Swartz, Wendy; Campany, Robert Ford; Lu, Yang; Choo, Jessey (eds.). Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. pp. 156–165. ISBN 978-0231531009.
  15. ^ Australian National University. Dept. of Far Eastern History (1983). Papers on Far Eastern History, Volumes 27-30. Australian National University, Department of Far Eastern History. pp. 86, 87, 88.
  16. ^ Wang, Yi-t’ung (1953). "Slaves and Other Comparable Social Groups During The Northern Dynasties (386-618)". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 16 (3/4). Harvard-Yenching Institute: 322. doi:10.2307/2718246. JSTOR 2718246.
  17. ^ Tang, Qiaomei (May 2016). Divorce and the Divorced Woman in Early Medieval China (First through Sixth Century) (PDF) (A dissertation presented by Qiaomei Tang to The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of East Asian Languages and Civilizations). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. pp. 151, 152, 153.
  18. ^ Liang Baiquan (梁白泉) (1998), 南京的六朝时刻 Nanjing-de Liu Chao Shike (Nanjing's Six Dynasties' Sculptures), 南京出版社 (Nanjing Press), pp. 53–55, ISBN 7-80614-376-9
  19. ^ McIntosh, Jane; Chrisp, Peter; Parker, Philip; Gibson, Carrie; Grant, R. G.; Regan, Sally (October 2014). History of the World in 1,000 Objects. New York: DK and the Smithsonian. p. 407. ISBN 978-1-4654-2289-7.